Activists for Change - A4C, called on middle class Ugandans to 'Walk to Work' in order to show solidarity with the increasing number of people who have joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of poor Ugandans that walk to work every day. The new walkers can no longer afford the soaring price of fuel for their cars or the rising taxi and boda-boda fares. An increasing number of Ugandans cannot afford even one meal a day due to the 40% increase in food prices caused by sky rocketing inflation.
Yesterday, when A4C launched its activities in Kampala, the message of solidarity with the masses was nearly lost in the violence that was meted out on walkers. In all cases, walkers left their homes peacefully and headed to their place of work Their walk remained peaceful until police intervened to stop their advance to town. There was no provocation on the part of the walkers. In all cases it was police which caused commotion in their effort to stop the walkers. The irony is that these malnourished police constables who had orders to block and detain walkers seemed to be the ones in most need of A4C's actions.
When we were stopped along Jinja Road on our way to work, we were walking cheerfully, engaging in casual conversation, jumping over gaping manholes and paying scant attention to passersby. I loved the anonymity of our activity. No one realized that several opposition politicians and activists were walking by and a couple who did recognize us waved in friendly greeting and encouraged us in our 'Walk to Work.' Everything changed when we were accosted by police constables demanding that we stop our walk and accompany them to the police station across the road. We explained that we were simply walking to work and had no interest in paying them a visit. Their commanding officer, Kamugisha, seemed to be tongue-tied, even embarassed by the nature of his assignment. When we asked him for a warrant of arrest, he produced his Police ID card. We burst out laughing.
We worked our way through the first police blockade but a few metres down the road they returned, now reinforced by more mean looking armed men in uniform but these ones were anonymous. Their uniforms did not have a name tag like Kamugisha's, they wore the blue version of our military’s uniform and judging from the way they manhandled us I believe they were military men. One of them shoved me backwards and Kamugisha touched my left breast, I pushed his hand away in disgust. There was no female constable among them and no one had the right to shove me around or touch me. I made a mental note to sue Kamugisha and his men.
Then I decided to stare down one of these thugs in uniform who was trying to block my path and realized that other than using brute force to restrain me; this poor young man could not look me in the eye. I repeatedly asked him to look at me so I could talk to him, but he studiously looked away in shame. My anger melted and instead I felt deep empathy for this man, barely in his twenties who obviously did not like what he was doing. I managed to slip away from the drama but my colleagues were arrested and detained for several hours before we bailed them out at Nakawa Court.
State propaganda led by Uganda Police officers has dubbed our 'Walk to Work' activity a procession that could have ended in a riot because we were converging on the city centre from different directions. I was astounded to hear a Police spokesman on UBC television demanding that we inform them of the 'venue' of our activities so that they could provide protection. Well, that is a tall order since the middle class that is participating in the walk, lives all over the city and beyond. In the evening during a popular talk show 'Hot Seat’ on Kfm, the Assistant Inspector General of Police said they were able to read our minds and they knew we wanted to cause chaos so they moved fast to save the city! Even more astounding, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kale Kayihura told a press conference that our goal was to stage a demonstration at City Square.
Either the Police have very bad intelligence or it has very bad motives for trying to stop A4C. Anyone who watched NTV and saw Hon. Odonga Otto, the only walker who was not accosted by police; would have told the IGP that our destination was Christ the King Church. It was an open secret that we were headed to work after praying for our country at Christ the King. The question that Uganda should ask is: Why is the government so jittery and suspicious of our legitimate and constitutional actions, that they panicked and caused so much chaos? The IGP claims that he acted in the interest of Kampalans to protect their businesses from rioters. He fails to see that it was the actions of his men that caused the riots. He says he was working under article 43 of the Constitution which places general limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
The IGP prefers to read only the first part of the article which states: 43. (1) In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. He is silent on the second part which states that: (2) Public interest under this article shall not permit—
(a) political persecution; (b) detention without trial; (c) any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in this Constitution.
Our contention is that the actions of the Police were tantamount to political persecution and they were neither acceptable nor justifiable in a free democratic society. Police's demand that we seek authorization to walk to work is therefore beyond ridiculous: It is unconstitutional. A good strategist would have told the IGP that if they simply ignored the 'Walk to Work', it would probably have fizzled out so fast and been forgotten by the next day. Instead the actions of Police led to worldwide coverage of 'Walk to Work' making it a resounding success which we are now celebrating. A4C will continue to defy unconstitutional police regulations. The police helped us in our recruitment efforts and we expect more walkers to join us this Thursday.